1912 to 1952
In 1951 journalist Osmar White declared that the 'mental defect' of the children in the Cottages at Kew was 'far less than the moral defect of the community' which permitted them to continue living in wretched conditions. In the preceding four decades, the Victorian Government had mostly neglected the Children's Cottages, allowing them to fall into a state of shocking disrepair. Many patients lived bleak and monotonous lives, with little to do and no visits from family or friends. Others, deemed 'educable', were luckier, provided with opportunities to attend school or 'work out' in the community.
The Children's Cottages suffered a severe shortage of staff in these decades. Those who stayed lived in 'out-of-date' quarters and worked in squalid conditions, struggling to care for too many patients. Given the staff shortage, the Cottages depended on the labour of 'working patients', those residents who worked without pay in the wards, kitchen, laundry or grounds of the institution.
In the 1930s and 1940s community organisations like the Occupational Auxiliary 'embraced' the Cottages, fund raising to provide entertainment and 'comforts' for the patients. The simple pleasures they provided highlighted just how little governments spent on the institution and its patients. In the late 1940s, public pressure finally forced the Victorian Government to act to improve conditions in the state's mental hospitals. In 1951, it appointed English psychiatrist Dr Eric Cunningham Dax Chairman of a new Mental Hygiene Authority, marking the beginning of a new era.